Project C1

Crisis Management and Risk Minimization among Pastoralists, Peasants, and (former) Foragers in southern Africa


Project Leader:

Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig
Institut für Völkerkunde
D-50923 Köln

 0221 / 470-3501
 0221 / 470-5117


Ute Diekmann, M.A.
Anne Schady, M.A.
Dr. Michael Schnegg


Research Area:

Northern Namibia, Southern Angola and South Africa




Research Program

The project examines how population groups in southern Africa cope with an unpredictable social, political and physical environment. Researchers within the project


Ethnographic fieldwork is carried out with seven different groups:

  1. Ovambo in the Omusati region,
  2. Himba in northwestern Namibia and southeastern Angola,
  3. Nama in the Richtersveld, South Africa,
  4. Hai//om in the vicinity of the Etosha National Park,
  5. Khwe in Caprivi Game Park,
  6. inhabitants of a small town in western South Africa, and
  7. commercial farmers and their employees in Kunene South.


The comparative analysis shows that the livelihoods of rural communties in southern Africa have been endangered throughout the last two centuries, the main hazards being violent conflict, enforced eviction and/or encapsulation. Droughts and degradation added up to the range of hazards. Major coping mechanisms are above all a heavy investment of capital and time into social networks and the diversification of productive strategies.

Lately however, with the end of the Apartheid era in southern Africa options and contraints changed. Whilst most actors have more agency than in former times, we observe at the same time an increasing competition over scarce resources. Recent developments in Namibia and South Africa contribute to the use of ethnic identity as an instrument to cope with risks and crisis for some groups. Ethnic “communities” try to revitalize or reinvent traditions and traditional leadership in order to safe-guard key-resources or to gain access to new ones. Non-governmental organizations, working on an international level, are central for the mobilisation of ethnic consciousness and the use of cultural capital on the local level.


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